Bean on mission to make athletics great again
Beware coaches of other sports: Devon Bean, the new director of athletics at the Bermuda National Athletics Association is on the lookout for talented youngsters who may just have a knack for running and jumping.
The island has many multisports athletes, including some who showed talent during school sports but preferred the so-called glamorous sports such as football and cricket. But now Bean, an Olympic sprinter, wants to find some new talent and will be casting a wide net in his search.
Some fast young footballer or cricketer, he says, may be better suited to athletics.
Footballers Damon Ming and Khano Smith were talented runners in school, while Rohaan Simons, now the BNAA jumping coach, was a talented footballer and cricketer for Southampton Rangers.
He went on to become one of the island's leading high jumpers, but also played international football for Bermuda.
“I had to present a workshop over the midterm break to primary, middle and high school PE teachers and one thing I stressed to them, particularly at primary level, is I will be going to them because they are the first ones to spot the talent,” Bean said.
“For instance, I spotted a kid one day when I was on lunch duty at Sandys Secondary Middle School, and he didn't play football and wasn't involved in any school sports. But I saw him running after a ball one day and I said, ‘Hey, I think I've got something special here'.
Long story short, I convinced him to train and he ended up winning interschool sports that year. His name is Kindane Callender and he has now gone off to school in England.”
Callender went on to qualify for the 2011 Carifta Games in the 100 metres. Bean believes there are more Callenders out there waiting to be discovered.
“He went on to be a part of the Carifta team, Junior CAC and we took him to the East Coast [Invitational Meet], so he did quite well for himself,” said Bean, a teacher at Dame Marjorie Bean Hope Academy. “That's an example of the type of things I'm going to be looking towards.”
Convincing a youngster to give athletics a try is something that is close to home with Bean. “My son plays under-10 football [at Dandy Town] and I see talent at that level,” he said.
“He's a good footballer but is going to be a better runner, but he's still only 9. I'm introducing him to it slowly so he can get that bit in his mouth. He came second and third in interschool sports, and the two boys who beat him both run for Pacers.
“When they get a bit older, maybe under-15 or under-13, I'll be going to have a talk with some of the club coaches and say, ‘Yeah, you may have a kid on your bench who is pretty good in football, but I just want to open their eyes to another avenue.
“However, I don't want to deter a young player's dreams of becoming a professional soccer player.
“There is a sprinter for Great Britain, Adam Gemilli. He was an avid soccer player who spent seven years in Chelsea's youth academy [and played for Dagenham & Redbridge and Thurrock FC], but it wasn't until London 2012 that he put football on hold and gave track and field a go for a year.
“He only trained for London from October or November of the previous year and ended up making the Olympic team, made the semi-finals in the 200 and raced against his idol, Usain Bolt. He ended up becoming one of the fastest men in Europe within a year and a half.”
Gemili is the 2014 European champion in the 200 metres, and a silver medal-winner in the 100 metres and 4x100 metres relay in the 2014 Commonwealth Games. He is also a former world junior champion in the 100 metres and is the European under-21 champion in the 100 and 4x100 relay.
“Is he playing football any more? No,” Bean said. “A very good soccer player but a great sprinter. Our fastest athletes are playing other sports, and normally that's where they are spotted.
“Usain Bolt is another one — he loves football and loves cricket. Keshorn Walcott, the javelin thrower from Trinidad who came to Bermuda [Carifta 2012], was actually discovered throwing a cricket ball off the boundary. A Cuban coach was down there teaching PE and he said the throwing motion of the cricket ball is the same motion in throwing the javelin, ‘let me see if I can put the javelin in this guy's hand'.
“Two years later, Keshorn came here and broke the Carifta record, goes to Junior CAC and won that, goes to world juniors, wins that and goes to the Olympics and wins that ... all within two years. Is he playing cricket now?”
Walcott grew up playing football and cricket, striving to keep up with his athletically talented older brother, Elton. He did not take up the javelin until the age of 15. He is now the first Caribbean male athlete to win the gold medal in a throwing event in the history of the Olympics and is the holder of the Concacaf junior record.
“We lose a lot of our athletes to other sports because every coach, no matter what sport, loves speed, whether it's bowling a ball, running after a ball or playing up front or down back [in defence],” Bean said. “Track and field is not, per se, a glamorous sport and it is hard.
“Ultimately, you are running against the clock and the terrain and running by yourself, gutting out those 300s and 500s [metre splits], and it can become boring and hard at times.”
Bean is pleased with the young track talent coming through, including Stefan Dill, 17, a sprinter from his club, Dash, who attends Berkeley.
“He trains with me and is a very hard worker,” Bean said. “I haven't come across an athlete like Stefan in a long time, as far as what he does away from the track.
“Stefan trained all summer, running the beach and running the hills because he wants it so bad. He's special. Not ultra-talented, but he's going to get by off his work ethic.”
Bean said another challenge facing the sport is trying to keep girls interested after a certain age.
“Females tend to drop off when they become young women and one reason boys stick to it longer is because males are very competitive,” the coach said.